Stella Smith: Corporate change is like the January detox: benefits are often short-lived

Such schemes may not address the underlying habits that caused the problem, writes our columnist

Stella Smith
Stella Smith

It's only a few weeks into 2017 and already I've given up my new year resolution. In fact, I've decided my new new year resolution is giving up new year resolutions. Too often I've committed to an ambitious health drive only to remember soon after that the pleasure of a comfy sofa always trumps that of the treadmill. I am a creature of habit, even when I know those habits aren't good.

And while I haven't quite given up on them, my enthusiasm for big organisational change programmes is seriously waning too, especially when I read that Scope and Mencap are both spending £1m on redundancy payments. There must be a better way to improve charity effectiveness. Large corporate change initiatives are like the January detox: instigating them might make us feel proactive and in control, but the benefits, if any, are often short-lived. They don't address the underlying habits that caused the problems in the first place, so we soon revert to our bad old ways.

A marginal gains methodology to improving performance has been credited as the key to success for Olympic athletes and is increasingly popular in other areas. This advocates small incremental improvements that, when added together, result in a significant improvement. So instead of a strict diet of spirulina smoothies, we just eat a few less doughnuts and use the stairs. No individual improvement is big, but the cumulative effect is a long-term change to unhelpful habits.

We need to review the way we do organisational change, move on from the all-or-nothing crash-diet approach and instead focus on marginal gains. We can all identify small positive changes we could make, but here are just a few ideas.

Clear the workspace As every dieter knows, it's nigh on impossible to lose weight when there's only pizza and beer in the kitchen. And it's an uphill struggle to perform well if your desk is cluttered with irrelevant papers. Focusing on clearing the workplace every day helps to create the space where people can focus on results.

Know the costs of meetings As a sector, we like our meetings, but are they really worth the cost? Nowadays food packaging states the nutritional value - so, though no one tells us we can't eat that pack of biscuits, we do so knowing the implications. We could do the same with our meetings, stating on every agenda an estimation of the cost to the charity of holding that meeting (in terms of time, opportunity costs and so on). It might just prompt us to keep discussions on track.

Give and receive feedback at the end of every project Just as dieters need to get on the scales, we all need to get and give feedback on performance. Sometimes the feedback is good, sometimes not so good; sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected. What is important is that we give and receive feedback regularly and use this information to improve our performance.

Which changes are right will depend on individuals, the organisation and what you are trying to achieve - but most importantly, none of them is earth shattering. They don't need a budget, communication plan or even an announcement. But if we each individually develop a habit of implementing everyday improvements, those organisational change programmes might not need to be so big or painful.

Stella Smith is a consultant and facilitator.

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